Those who go for regular pedicures will be familiar with toe spacers – plastic or foam pads that sit in between the toes to stop nail polish smudging.
But Dr Aaron Horschig, physical therapist, author and stength coach working in Missouri, has revealed that the tool has another little-known use.
He says they can also be helpful for preventing and treating unsightly bunions.
Around a third of Americans have bunions – a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of the big toe as a result of excess compression of the foot bones.
The problem, which can result from wearing tight shoes, can cause bone deformity, pain, and stiffness, and there’s limited treatments.
Surgery is given in extreme cases, which carries risks of infection and requires weeks of recovery.
But toe spacers, which cost less than 10 dollars on Amazon, can prevent the problem from happening in the first place and even treat it, according to Dr Horschig.
‘I am a big fan of using toe spacers, like Correct Toes which, like braces to the teeth, help realign toes with the metatarsals of your foot,’ he said in a video posted to his TikTok channel.
The metatarsals are the long bones in the front of the feet that sit just below the toes.
Bunions, where the bones in the foot shift to cause a bump near the bottom of the toe, affect one in three Americans at some point in their lives. There’s little treatment options, apart from surgery
According to Dr Horschig, toe spacers can ‘decrease the angle’ of an existing bunion, as well as ease pain.
This is because, over time, they widen the top of the foot, forcing the bones to return to a normal position.
The claim appears to be supported by some research.
Toe spacers, or separators, are used during pedicures to prevent polish from smudging – but experts say they serve a medical purpose too
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that wearing toe spacers for eight months reduced pain and increased flexibility in women with moderate bunions.
Dr Hoschig offers another tip for helping the shape of the foot return to normal.
‘Just getting wider toe box shoes that help the toes to spread back out can the reverse negative reaction,’ he says.
‘We wear shoes that are way too narrow and over time our foot adapts to the shape of the shoe.’
Other experts advise choosing shoes with a wide toe box — no pointy toes — and sufficient space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the front of the shoe.